Should I Represent Myself?

The question comes up in many cases of so-called minor crimes and misdemeanors. “Can’t I represent myself?”

My answer is that no person should represent himself or herself in a civil or criminal case. It’s just too difficult and specialized and so many regret the decision. There’s an old saying, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” I would expand on that to read: “He who represents himself has a fool for a client and a fool for a lawyer.” I don’t know how many times I have been asked this question. “Can I do it myself?” I usually respond by asking if they had a notion to fly to the moon, would they take up a wrench and screwdriver and start building a rocket ship?

Here are some reasons you should not represent yourself:

1. The criminal justice system is a world you’re not expecting.

Some people believe they can walk into court and explain things to a fair and compassionate judge and things will work out for the best. This is wrong on so many counts it’s hard to know where to start.

The court system in America is known as an “adversary system,” which means both the plaintiff (the State of Florida in criminal cases), and the Defendant (the person charged with committing a crime), are allowed to put on their best case and then a judge or a jury will decide “the facts.”

But wait a minute, aren’t “the facts” the same for both the State and the Defense?
The answer to that is a resounding: NO.

Just like any two people will come away from witnessing an incident, say a car accident, with completely different takes on what happened, the facts in most every criminal case are very different, depending on whose side you’re on.

2. The Rules of Evidence.

In the United States, the only evidence allowed to be presented in favor of or against any single argument is governed by a set of rules that take up thousands of pages of explanations, rationales and court decisions, many of which are contradictory and/or apparently illogical, and all of which are complex and difficult to understand. If you were to walk into court and start talking in plain English, even if it were your turn and even if you did speak in complete sentences, you’d be tossed out on your ear.

But, I’ve been asked, can’t the judge or jury just listen to my story?

Again, NO. The Rules of Evidence are exclusionary rules that prevent large swaths of information from reaching the judge and jury, even if you believe the information is true and/or verifiable!!

3. The Thing is Decided.

One of those esoteric, difficult rules to understand is that once a case or issue is decided, it can’t be reviewed again. So you don’t get to come up with something you might have “forgotten” to bring to court or overlooked. If you forget it or overlook it, you can’t bring it up later. But, what about appeals? Truth is, there are more complex and difficult rules about what can be appealed and what can’t, the whys are wherefores so complicated and difficult that volumes have been written about them. If you lose at the trial level, your hopes of winning on appeal are slim to none even if you have a lawyer that has correctly preserved the record. By yourself, you’re all but finished. A record of cases I have appealed is available online.

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